Saturday, May 16, 2009


With GreenFuel’s demise is algae still viable?

By Susan Wilson


May 15 2009

GreenFuel, one of the best funded biofuel companies using algae has gone belly up. Was it the credit crunch or the technology that did them in? It is difficult to tell if GreenFuel’s inability to get Round 3 funding for its process was the fault of the current economy or problems with the technology, either way it does not bode well for other algae companies.

Greentech Media announced GreenFuel’s demise this morning. So far the company has not issued a press release or made any comments on its web page. GreenFuel had received the most funding to date for companies using algae to generate biofuel. The process that the company used was growing algae in bioreactors. Tubes filled with microbes and algae that used photosynthesis and CO2.

EcoGeek added that GreenFuel had suffered some technical glitches that caused the company to miss delivery on its first contract. Whether that missed deadline hastened its demise is still unclear.

That is where the viability of other algae biofuel companies comes into question. There has been an explosion of biofuel companies and algae companies in particular. Several of the companies had adopted GreenFuel’s bioreactor approach to producing fuel from algae. It is those companies right now that are most in jeopardy.

There are companies that use different methods. Solazyme grows its algae in dark vats. The process is more expensive because it requires feeding the algae sugar rather than using free CO2 and sunlight. There are some companies that are using different versions of bioreactors. Whether those will work better than GreenFuel’s is yet to be determined.

An undisputed fact is that “algae is more productive per acre” than other sources of biofuel like corn, palm, jatropha and other plants. “Algae advocates claim that they should be able to get 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of feedstock per acre per year. 16,000 square miles of pond space (or the equivalent) would be enough to supply the U.S.”

Whether algae produced biofuel will actually make it to the pumps is a crapshoot right now. Statistically it looks great on paper but will any of the processes in use now be able to provide biofuel in sufficient quantity or low enough price to make it viable?

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